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Telehealth Offers a Bridge during a Crisis

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The 12-year-old boy had a life-threatening heart condition that would require surgery. His anxiety spiraled when he got the diagnosis. “Last year a different cardiac patient, a teen, ended up in the emergency department twice because of anxiety,” recalls cardiologist Dr. Ashraf Harahsheh. “It was important to reduce my 12-year-old patient’s anxiety to keep him out of trouble.”

Dr. Harahsheh referred his family to our psychology practice. He also had an idea for immediate help. “It was a eureka moment,” he says. “I knew my colleague Vicki Freedenberg, an electrophysiology nurse scientist, could help.” Dr. Freedenberg has built her career teaching patients and staff skills to improve their mental health. Her Mindful Mentors program has taught more than 90 of our care providers to incorporate mindfulness techniques into their work. This enhances their own and their patients’ well-being and lower stress without medication.

But in the time of COVID-19, an in-person session wasn’t possible. Dr. Harahsheh set up a virtual visit. “Children’s National is a pioneer in many aspects of pediatric care,” he says. “Telehealth is a great example. It’s a bridge, allowing us to see patients through a secure system from home.”

The boy lay on the couch in his living room during the visit. Dr. Freedenberg taught him calming techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and meditation with guided imagery. “At the end of session he said he could smell the racetrack, hear the cars roaring around and taste the Mexican food served at his happy place,” Dr. Harasheh says. “The boy was the happiest I have ever seen him. And that makes me really happy for this family.”

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